I wrote this article on Transgender for Christian Today. In reply CT then published this article WWJD – A Trans Christian responds . I was horrified and to be honest quite hurt about it – and I don’t often get hurt about personal articles. The ‘on the one hand some Christians say this, on the other some say the opposite’ – approach is very damaging because it sounds as though the issue is not clear. Its sowing the confusion of the world within the church. And it gets worse – because on the one hand are these nice Christians who understand and accept people as they are, on the other are the hate-filled religious bigots who are responsible for the murder of transgender people. The fact that the second article directly accused me of that kind of damage was for me really depressing. So I wrote a response, which was one of the hardest things I have ever had to write – and to their credit Christian Today have published it.
This is the original version of that article – which, for reasons of space had to be cut.
What Should the Church Do About Transgender?
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a widely read article asking, ‘What would Jesus do about transgender?’ Of course in the highly politicised atmosphere of today’s culture, such an article was always going to be controversial and generate reactions. One such was from Jamie Fletcher an LGBTQ+ activist, who wrote ‘A trans Christian responds’.
Sometimes the WWJD tag is used as an accusation – ‘you are being unloving and judgemental and Jesus would never be like that’, which falls into the trap of being judgemental and thus, by the standards of the speaker, unChristlike. But moving on from such judgementalism perhaps its better to ask what Jesus Christ, as the head of the Church wants us to do?
Firstly there are areas of agreement.
Like Jamie I too believe that all human beings should be treated with respect and dignity as children of God. I also believe that we need to be careful about the words that we use because the tongue is powerful and can do a great deal of damage. And of course we need to listen to people of different views and different experiences. I also agree that there are far too many articles about trans people and toilets, which run the danger of trivialising a serious issue. Like Jamie I affirm that Jesus loves trans people. But then Jamie knows this because all of it was stated in the original article.
So what about the areas of disagreement? Jamie stated that my article, which called for and agreed with all the above, was ‘extremely damaging’. I too am very concerned about damage being caused to people, especially children – that is why I wrote my article. For example in The Sunday Times on the 3rd of December it was reported that primary schools and nurseries are being provided with books which promote transgender. One such is a picture book is called Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?, in which the book’s central character, called Tiny, queries their gender identity. As Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: “I do not question the intentions of the people using and promoting this material, but it is misguided. They are inflicting adult neuroses about gender onto children who are not interested in gender. Adults need to stop thinking children see the world the way they do. They do not. They may play at being a goblin one day, a dragon the next. They do not see the world in the way adults do and inflicting adult neuroses about gender onto children is damaging and cruel.”
The article title was deliberate. ‘Transgender’ was used as a noun precisely because it was not written to attack people but an ideology. There is a whole ideology known as Queer theory that denies gender and which I believe does a great deal of harm. I would argue that this ideology is what dehumanises people. I would also say that when you label people who disagree with your ideology as ‘transphobic’ you dehumanise and demonise them. Its not a helpful way for a follower of Christ to behave. All people have to be respected. Not all ideologies.
It is also not helpful to associate those who disagree with an ideology with the murder of 325 transgender people. It is a form of emotional and psychological bullying to imply that if you dare to disagree with me, then you are implicated in these murders. I am certain that not one of them was carried out by Christians who hold to the views described in my article. As followers of Christ we do not kill those we disagree with.
As for listening to voices, that is precisely what I am doing. The fact that I come to a different conclusion than Jamie is not a reason for me to be demonised and accused of complicity in murder. I hear many voices. I hear the depressed teenager who has been told by a teacher that the reason for their depression might be that they are trapped in the wrong body. I hear the voice of the doctor who tells me that they have given up doing sex change operations because the outcome is 80 per cent negative. I hear the voice of the trans person who says that they must change because they really are trapped in the wrong body. I hear the voice of the trans person who now realises it was wrong and wants to change back but just for having said so is abused and vilified by some within the ‘trans community’. These are all real conversations with real people. There are many voices to be heard, and all of us need to listen. Yelling ‘transphobe’ at anyone who dares to disagree is not listening.
Which is not to deny that there is a psychological condition known as Gender Identity Disorder. I do not dispute that those who suffer from GID should receive treatment and help. Not least because as Jamie points out 89 per cent of trans young people self-harm and 45 per cent have attempted suicide. The problem is that she assumes that this is because of being bullied or not accepted as trans. Doubtless this does happen, but what if part of the problem is being trans in the first place? Or there are deeper issues which are only covered over by trying to explain them away as trans? Would we not then be encouraging children into a harmful and damaging way of life?
I agree that we should not demonise people but to claim that children are not given hormones and accuse any one who says that they are of ‘cheap demonisation’ is itself not helpful. The NHS website for Transgender states clearly that one of the treatments available for GID is hormone therapy. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gender-dysphoria/treatment/ Are they demonising trans people?
Listening to God
As Christians I take it as a given that we will listen to our fellow human beings, made in the image of God. I also assume that we will all listen to the Spirit speaking in and through the Scriptures. There is no doubt that the Bible does clearly say that God made humanity male and female, and that Christ re-emphasised that in the New Testament. But Jamie suggests that the apostle Paul changed everything in Galatians 3:28 when he states ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (NIV). The trouble with this quotation is that it is out of context – and a text quoted out of context is just a pretext for whatever the quoter wants to make it say. In this case it is absurd to state that Paul is declaring male and female no longer exist – absurd because the rest of this letter and all his letters assume and teach that they do!
What Paul is saying is that ‘in Christ’ there is no more male and female’ – in other words our gender does not matter when it comes to salvation.
Jamie says, ‘The important thing is to read this passage from the point of view of the one who has been excluded, not from the point of view of the one in the position of power and privilege.’ She writes from the perspective of someone who has power and privilege in the arts world and among our media and cultural elites. I write as an outsider, as someone who is excluded from ‘polite society’ just because I do not share the worldview of those currently in power. But so what? The important thing is not to read the passage from the perspective of the one who has been excluded, but to read it from the perspective of God. Is the Lord able to clearly convey his teaching or not? Or does it all depend on our perspective?
To misuse and abuse the Word of God in the way Jamie does, seeking to adapt it to her own ideological agenda, is morally wrong and intellectually dishonest. To declare that Jesus was someone who challenged ‘hetereonormativity’ without any evidence whatsoever is just to invent a Jesus who suits ones own agenda and ideology and to make a nonsense of the Bible.
What should the Church do?
Jesus did champion the marginalised and he did love the outcast – the tax collector as well as the prostitute. I suspect the equivalent of the tax collector today would be a Britain First candidate? I wonder how many Christian groups are rushing to love them?! But he never said to people, ‘Come as you are and stay as you are.’ His promise was always that all were welcome – but that they would be radically changed. All need to be reborn. Jesus does not affirm us in our lifestyles. He redeems us from them.
Jamie makes the comment “What Would Jesus Do about Transgender people? My Bible suggests he would love them.” This was a somewhat snide dig – the implication being that of course my article was unloving and transphobic. We are back to the question of how does Jesus love and how should the church love. Jamie’s version of the love of Jesus is undefined but seems to be along the lines that he just lets us be whatever we want to be. I think there is much more to the love of Christ than that, as I pointed out in the original article.
We need to speak the truth in love. We need to engage in respectful dialogue. I doubt that there is anyone who would read my article who would see it as an invitation to attack trans people. But I know (having experienced it already) that being called a transphobe in today’s society is the equivalent of being called a Nazi.
It’s not just the hate mail; it’s also the attempts to get newspapers and broadcasters to exclude you (‘you can’t have him, he’s a transphobe) and the threats on future employment as well as to anyone connected with you. I don’t think my article damaged or harmed anyone. On the other hand Jamie’s is designed specifically to do that. To shut down the debate by shutting down the messenger – labelling and demonising anyone who disagrees and dares to speak out.
But we need to challenge harmful ideologies which undermine the Word of God and by so doing attack the person of Christ and harm his creation. We need to listen, learn and love. As the church of Jesus Christ we must be fearless in proclaiming the love of Christ in a confused and lost world. We must not compromise his love by adapting it to suit ourselves or the current zeitgeist. Christ is too precious for that…and our culture is in such a desperate state that it needs the Christ of the Bible, not our own personal Jesus.
David Robertson is Associate Director of Solas CPC in Dundee and minister at St Peter’s Free Church. Follow him on Twitter @TheWeeFlea.